Women in Black History Timeline: 1950-1959

Rosa Parks gets fingerprinted
Underwood Archives/Getty Images

African-American women are an essential part of our collective history. The following is a chronology of events and birthdates for women involved in African-American history, from 1950-1959.

1950

Gwendolyn Brooks became the first African-American to win a Pulitzer Prize (for Annie Allen).

Althea Gibson became the first African-American to play at Wimbledon.

• Juanita Hall became the first African-American to win a Tony Award, for playing Bloody Mary in South Pacific.

January 16: Debbie Allen born (choreographer, actor, director, producer).

February 2: Natalie Cole born (singer; daughter of Nat King Cole).

1951

July 15: Mary White Ovington died (social worker, reformer, NAACP founder).

• Linda Brown's father sued the Topeka, Kansas, school board because she had to travel by bus to a school for African-American children when she could walk to the segregated school for white children only. This would become the Brown v. Board of Education landmark civil rights case.

1952

September: Autherine Juanita Lucy and Pollie Myers applied to the University of Alabama and were accepted. Their acceptances were rescinded when the university discovered they were not white. They took the case to court, and it took three years to resolve the case.

1954

• Norma Sklarek became the first African-American woman licensed as an architect.

Dorothy Dandridge was the first African-Amerian woman nominated for a Best Actress Oscar, for playing the lead role in Carmen Jones.

January 29: Oprah Winfrey born (first African-American woman billionaire, first African-American woman to host a nationally syndicated talk show).

September 22: Shari Belafonte-Harper born (actress).

May 17: In Brown v. Board of Education, Supreme Court ordered schools to desegregate "with all deliberate speed" — finds "separate but equal" public facilities to be unconstitutional.

July 24: Mary Church Terrell died (activist, clubwoman).

1955

May 18: Mary McLeod Bethune died.

July: Rosa Parks attended a workshop at the Highlander Folk School in Tennessee, learning effective tools for civil rights organizing.

August 28: Emmett Till, 14 years old, was killed by a white mob in Mississippi after he was accused of whistling at a white woman.

December 1: Rosa Parks was arrested when she refused to give up a seat and move to the rear of the bus, triggering the Montgomery bus boycott.

• Marian Anderson became the first African-American member of the Metropolitan Opera company.

1956

Mae Jemison born (astronaut, physician).

• Hundreds of women and men in Montgomery walked for miles to work rather than use the buses as part of the Montgomery Bus Boycott.

• A court ordered the University of Alabama to admit Autherine Juanita Lucy, who filed a lawsuit in 1952 (see above). She was admitted but was barred from dormitories and dining halls. She enrolled on February 3 as a graduate student in library science, the first black student admitted to a white public school or university in Alabama. The university expelled her in March, claiming she had slandered the school, after riots broke out and the courts ordered the university to protect her. In 1988, the university annulled the expulsion and she returned to school, earning her M.A. degree in education in 1992. The school even named a clock tower for her, and featured her portrait in the student union honoring her initiative and courage.

December 21: The Supreme Court ruled bus segregation in Montgomery, Alabama was unconstitutional.

1957

• African-American students, advised by NAACP activist Daisy Bates, desegregated a Little Rock, Arkansas, school under the protection of military troops ordered in by the federal government.

April 15: Evelyn Ashford was born (athlete, track and field; four Olympic gold medals, Track and Field Women's Hall of Fame).

• Althea Gibson became the first African-American tennis player to win at Wimbledon and the first African-American to win the U.S. Open.

• The Associated Press named Althea Gibson their "Woman Athlete of the Year."

1958

August 16: Angela Bassett born (actress).

1959

March 11: Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry became the first Broadway play written by an African-American woman — Sidney Poitier and Claudia McNeil starred.

January 12: Motown Records founded in Detroit after Berry Gordy deferred working for Billy Davis and Gordy's sisters Gwen and Anna at Anna Records; female stars from Motown included Diane Ross and the Supremes, Gladys Knight, Queen Latifah.

December 21: Florence Griffith-Joyner born (athlete, track and field; first African-American to win four medals in one Olympics; sister-in-law of Jackie Joyner-Kersee).